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Azerbaijan, Armenia Trade Blame Over Latest Deadly Border Clashes

Armenian soldiers at a border checkpoint between Armenia and Azerbaijan near the village of Sotk. (file photo)
Armenian soldiers at a border checkpoint between Armenia and Azerbaijan near the village of Sotk. (file photo)

Azerbaijan and Armenia have blamed each other for the latest border shoot-out that Yerevan says claimed the lives of three of its soldiers amid renewed tensions between the two South Caucasus neighbors after last year's war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said three of its servicemen were killed and two wounded on July 28 after the Azerbaijani armed forces “once again provoked a violation of the cease-fire in the northeastern section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border” by launching attacks against Armenian positions."

“All responsibility for the aggravation of the situation lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” the Armenian ministry said, adding that there were casualties on the Azerbaijani side as well.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused Armenia of escalating the situation. It said that units of the Armenian armed forces opened fire on positions of Azerbaijani troops stationed in the Kalbacar district shortly after midnight, wounding two Azerbaijani soldiers.

Azerbaijan emphasized that “Armenia bears full responsibility” for the escalation along the state border between the two countries.

The clashes have become more frequent along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in recent weeks after the two South Caucasus neighbors ended a six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The conflict, which claimed at least 6,900 lives, ended in November 2020 with a Moscow-brokered cease-fire that saw Azerbaijan regaining controls over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven adjacent districts that ethnic Armenians had controlled for almost 30 years.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.

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EU Announces 13th Russia Sanctions Package On Eve Of Second Anniversary Of Ukraine Invasion

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (file photo)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (file photo)

The European Union announced a fresh package of sanctions against Russia on February 24, on the eve of the second anniversary of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

"Today, we are further tightening the restrictive measures against Russia's military and defense sector," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a press release.

“We remain united in our determination to dent Russia’s war machine and help Ukraine win its legitimate fight for self-defense.”

The 13th Ukraine-related sanctions package targets Russia's defense industry and slaps assets freezes and travel bans on 106 individuals and 88 organizations, bringing to 2,000 the total number of people and groups sanctioned by the 27-member bloc for "undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine."

The newly sanctioned individuals include dozens of Russian officials including "members of the judiciary, local politicians and people responsible for the illegal deportation and military re-education of Ukrainian children," the statement said.

They also impose restrictions on companies from India, Sri Lanka, China, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Turkey suspected of exporting to Russia dual-use products for "supporting Russia's military and industrial complex."

The restrictions also expand on components for the development and production of aerial drones.

The names of the companies will be published in the EU’s official journal in several days.

In response to the EU move, the Russia Foreign Ministry announced on February 23 that it had drastically expanded a list of the bloc's officials and politicians banned from entering Russia.

"The European Union is continuing its fruitless attempts to put pressure on Russia through unilateral restrictive measures," the ministry said in a statement.

Three Tajik Public Figures Handed Prison Terms Over Book

Abdukhalil Kholiqzoda and Abduqodiri Rustam (file photo)
Abdukhalil Kholiqzoda and Abduqodiri Rustam (file photo)

Tajikistan's Supreme Court has handed prison terms to three well-known public figures for writing, editing, and publishing a book that highlights some of the challenges faced by those living in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, which the authorities ordered cleared from bookstores.

Several sources told RFE/RL on February 23 that the court sentenced Abdukhalil Kholiqzoda to 6 1/2 years, Abduqodir Rustam to 4 1/2 years, and Suhrob Rajabzoda to one year in prison after finding them guilty of inciting hatred.

There was no official announcement of the verdicts and sentences as the trial was held behind closed doors within a detention center in Dushanbe.

Lawyers and relatives of the three defendants refused to comment, while Supreme Court officials confirmed to RFE/RL that the trial session was held on February 22, but they could not comment, saying the trial judge was not available for comment.

It remains unclear if Kholiqzoda, Rustam, and Rajabzoda will appeal the sentences.

The men were arrested in August 2023 and went on trial on January 19.

The charges against them stemmed from their roles in publishing a book titled Stories Of My Life that, among other things, focused on everyday developments in modern Tajikistan, including corruption, migration, and cultural challenges faced in the Central Asian country.

The authorities confiscated all copies of the book from bookstores after the three men were arrested. The book's author is businessman Kholiqzoda, while Rustam edited it, and Rajabzoda's Er-Graf publishing house published it.

Self-exiled Tajik intellectuals and opposition figures condemned the arrests and the sentencing of the three men, calling the case against them a crackdown on freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, amid a lack of transparency in the country, speculation has risen that the case might be connected to a power struggle among the elite.

President Emomali Rahmon, who has run Tajikistan for almost 30 years, has been criticized by international human rights groups over his administration's policies toward independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism.

In recent years, several Tajik journalists, rights activists, and opposition politicians have been handed lengthy prison terms on charges seen by rights groups as trumped-up and politically motivated.

Jailed Kyrgyz Blogger Transferred To House Arrest

Batmakan Jolboldueva (file photo)
Batmakan Jolboldueva (file photo)

A court in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad ruled on February 22 to transfer local blogger Batmakan Jolboldueva from a pretrial detention center to house arrest. The State Committee for National Security said in early February that Jolboldueva was arrested and charged with extortion after she was caught receiving 25,000 soms ($280) from a person in exchange for withholding a sensitive report from being published. It remains unclear how Jolboldueva pleaded. She refused to elaborate on the charges when asked by RFE/RL to talk about the details of her case. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Putin Fears Navalny Funeral Could Trigger Mass Demonstrations, Khodorkovsky Says

Formerly Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on fraud charges that he says were trumped up by Putin and his allies and spent a decade in prison. (file photo)
Formerly Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on fraud charges that he says were trumped up by Putin and his allies and spent a decade in prison. (file photo)

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely refusing to release the body of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who died suspiciously in prison on February 16, because it fears a massive outpouring of grief and support just ahead of the March presidential election, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a leading Russian opposition figure, said.

"There could be large-scale confrontations in Moscow," the exiled former oil tycoon said in an interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

"The authorities do not want people to understand how many of them oppose Putin. The main task of Putin’s propaganda is to convince people that if they are against Putin, they are on the margins…. If people see that there are really a lot of them...then the situation can change in seconds."

Khodorkovsky: 'Putin Afraid' Navalny Funeral Could Spark Protests
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Russian authorities have yet to release Navalny's body to his family, while his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, said on February 22 they were pressing her to hold a private funeral "without any farewell ceremonies."

Khodorkovsky, who lives in London in exile and funds various projects aimed at promoting democracy in Russia, said that if Navalny's family rejected the government's demands, his body likely would not be released until after the March 17 presidential election, which the Kremlin hopes to use as a show of national unity in support of Putin and the ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

A large show of support for Navalny would be "a very serious signal to the elite," Khodorkovsky told Current Time.

Khodorkovsky described Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband's work, as "a person who is acceptable to the majority of opposition leaders" and said he was ready to coordinate with her and "join forces in tackling certain issues."

However, he said the democratic Russian opposition was too diverse to unite around a single figure "even the smartest, most brilliant, and best person imaginable."

He added that Putin’s government was "pushing us toward revolution" by replacing politics with government violence.

"The more it uses violent methods and the harsher it is with the opposition, the greater the likelihood that the opposition will become radicalized and adopt responses that are rather harsh and radical," he said. "And after that, one should expect that Russia will become a democratic country. That is just objective reality."

Khodorkovsky also urged the West not to recognize the legitimacy of the March presidential election and to deal with Putin from a position of strength.

"The West’s weakness gives Putin a free hand," he said, encouraging him to continue his aggression.

"What can stop him is a show of force," he said. "If you have the power, show it. If you don't, then just wait until he kicks in your door."

He said he believes adopting further sanctions against Russia would have little effect, but that existing sanctions need more rigorous enforcement. Many of the advanced weapons systems Russia is deploying in Ukraine contain Western-made components, he said, which encourages Putin not to consider sanctions a serious problem.

Formerly Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky, 60, was arrested in 2003 on fraud charges that he says were trumped up by Putin and his allies to punish his political activity, bring influential tycoons to heel, and put the oil assets of his company, Yukos, into state hands.

He spent just over a decade in prison before being pardoned and flown out of the country in December 2013.

Russian Appeal Against Olympic Suspension Rejected

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) says it has dismissed an appeal by the Russian Olympic Committee against its suspension by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Lausanne, Switzerland-based CAS said in a decision released on February 23 that it had set aside the appeal after Russia was suspended by the IOC over its decision to include sports bodies representing regions of eastern Ukraine -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya -- which Moscow illegally annexed. The IOC's suspension "did not breach the principles of legality, equality, predictability, or proportionality," the CAS said.

Public Figures Urge Russia To Release Navalny's Body To His Family

Demonstrators hold a portrait of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny during a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw on February 16.
Demonstrators hold a portrait of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny during a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw on February 16.

A group of leading Russian public figures has urged the authorities to immediately release the body of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny to his family after he died in prison a week ago.

Navalny's associates published video statements on their Komanda Navalnogo (Navalny's Team) Telegram channel on February 23 that show celebrities, musicians, actors, writers, and scholars all demanding Navalny's body be handed to his family, which has been told it may not be until the end of the month or later before it is released.

The group includes 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov; prominent ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov; a founding member of Pussy Riot protest group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova; writers Mikhail Zygar and Viktor Shenderovich; historian Tamara Eidelman; television journalist Tatyana Lazareva; popular rock musician Andrei Makarevich; rapper Noize MC (Ivan Alekseyev); businessman Yevgeny Chichvarkin; and many other noted public figures.

A day earlier, Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, said that investigators had allowed her to see her son's body late on February 21 in the Arctic city of Salekhard, but refused to hand it over for burial.

Navalnaya said she signed the death certificate, pointing out that the authorities were breaking the law by not releasing her son's body.

She also accused them of trying to force her to agree to bury her son secretly. She said she wanted her son's burial to be public so that all his supporters can bid a proper farewell to the anti-corruption crusader.

Navalnaya has been trying to get access to her son’s body since his death in a special-regime prison, the harshest type of penitentiary in Russia, was announced on February 16. Prison officials said the 47-year-old died after he collapsed while on a daily walk out of his cell.

On February 21, Navalnaya filed a lawsuit in a Russian court demanding the release of her son's body. A closed-door hearing into complaint is scheduled to be held on March 4, which roughly coincides with the time frame authorities have said they need to perform "chemical forensics" on Navalny's body.

Rights groups and Navalny's associates have accused authorities of holding the body to allow it to hide the cause of death.

WATCH: A Russian doctor who was involved in efforts to diagnose Aleksei Navalny after he was poisoned in 2020 says traces of poison can be removed from a dead body, and there was no reason for the Russian authorities not to hand over the body.

Former Navalny Doctor Says Poison Could Be Removed From Body
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The White House said on February 22 that U.S. President Joe Biden met with Navalny's widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in California "to express his heartfelt condolences."

Dasha Navalnaya is currently studying at Stanford University just outside of San Francisco.

During the meeting, Biden expressed his admiration for Navalny's "extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia in which the rule of law applies equally to everyone," the statement said.

Biden later announced major new sanctions against Russia in response to Navalny's death, Russia's repression, and aggression and its war in Ukraine.

Biden Announces More Than 500 Fresh Russia Sanctions, Warns House 'History Is Watching'

U.S. President Joe Biden said that by launching the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin "miscalculated badly." (file photo)
U.S. President Joe Biden said that by launching the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin "miscalculated badly." (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced a fresh package of more than 500 sanctions against Russia for its war on Ukraine and for the death of Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny, while urging the House of Representatives to pass a desperately needed aid package for Kyiv.

"These sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny's imprisonment as well as Russia's financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks, and sanctions evaders across multiple continents," Biden said in a statement issued by the White House on February 23, on the eve of the second anniversary of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The sanctions "will ensure [Russian President Vladimir ] Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home," Biden said.

The statement also announced that Washington was imposing export restrictions on nearly 100 entities that are helping Russia evade trade sanctions and are "providing backdoor support for Russia's war machine."

Further measures were also being taken to diminish Russia’s energy revenues, Biden announced.

"And I’ve directed my team to strengthen support for civil society, independent media, and those who fight for democracy around the world," the U.S. president said.

Biden said that by launching the invasion, Putin "miscalculated badly."

Putin "believed that he could easily bend the will and break the resolve of a free people," but instead, Ukrainians "fight on, unbowed in their determination to defend their freedom and future," Biden said, adding that as a result of Russia's invasion, "NATO is stronger, larger, and more united than ever."

The U.S. president said that Ukraine's allies remained committed to providing critical assistance to Kyiv, but Ukrainians, despite fighting with immense courage, are running out of ammunition.

A critical $61 billion aid package for Ukraine has been stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives despite being passed in the Senate in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote.

Biden warned that failure to authorize the bill would play into Putin's hands.

"Ukraine needs more supplies from the United States to hold the line against Russia's relentless attacks, which are enabled by arms and ammunition from Iran and North Korea," Biden said.

"That's why the House of Representatives must pass the bipartisan national security supplemental bill, before it’s too late.... History is watching," Biden warned.

Biden first announced his intention to slap sanctions on those responsible for Navalny's death on February 22, during a meeting in California with his widow and daughter.

Biden expressed his admiration for Navalny's "extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia in which the rule of law applies equally to everyone," the White House said.

Updated

Pashinian Says Armenia Freezes Membership In Russian-Led Security Alliance

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said his country has frozen its membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as Yerevan continues to distance itself from Moscow amid a souring of bilateral relations.

Pashinian said in an interview with France 24 television channel on February 22 that the move comes after Moscow began several months ago to openly call on Armenian citizens to overthrow his government, and that the deluge of propaganda against him "has never stopped."

The Pashinian government has long criticized the CSTO for its "failure to respond to the security challenges" facing Armenia.

Armenian authorities have accused Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 of failing to stop Azerbaijan's lightning offensive in September that ended with Baku regaining control over the breakaway region that for three decades was under ethnic Armenians' control.

Moscow has rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene and charging that Pashinian had effectively paved the way for the collapse of separatist rule in the region by previously acknowledging Azerbaijan's sovereignty over it.

Still, Pashinian declined to attend a CSTO summit in Minsk in November and said in a televised Q&A session then that any decision about Yerevan's continued membership in the grouping -- which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- would be based on Armenia's "own state interests."

In the interview, the Armenian prime minister also expressed concern over the detention in Armenia in November of Russian citizen Dmitry Setrakov, who was mobilized to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Rights watchdogs said at the time that Setrakov was detained by Russian military police, but Yerevan has not commented on the situation and Setrakov is said to have since fled Armenia.

When asked about the possible closure of Russia's military base in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri, Pashinian said that "that issue is not on the agenda" at this point.

Pashinian told France 24 that Setrakov's detention was "an abduction" and that "we cannot tolerate illegal actions on our territory."

Armenia has been on edge since the Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh amid fears Baku remains hostile toward the country.

Pashinian said he thinks Azerbaijan considers Armenia "Western Azerbaijan" and plans to attack Armenia and seize other Armenian territories.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on February 23 calling Pashinian's words about Baku's plans to attack Armenia "unfounded allegations...intended to inflict another blow to the peace process by deliberately inflaming tensions in the region."

Hungary To Sign Defense Deal With Sweden, Orban Says

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) welcomes Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Budapest on February 23.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) welcomes Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Budapest on February 23.

Hungary will sign a defense-industry deal with Sweden, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said ahead of a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Budapest on February 23, as Hungary prepares to finally ratify Sweden's NATO bid. "We will close all pending issues, and we will sign a defense-industry deal, a serious one considering Hungary's size, and we will also lay down some decisions or...goals about military cooperation," Orban told state radio. Orban and Kristersson will hold a press conference on February 23, before parliament is due to approve Sweden's NATO membership bid in a vote on February 26.

Updated

At Least Five Killed In Russian Air Strikes On Ukraine

Ukrainian firefighters work on the site of a burning building after a Russian attack in Odesa on February 23.
Ukrainian firefighters work on the site of a burning building after a Russian attack in Odesa on February 23.

At least five people were killed and 27 wounded in a new round of Russian drone and missile strikes on February 23 on several Ukrainian regions, the military and regional officials said.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 23 out of the 31 drones launched by Russia at the Odesa, Mykolayiv, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv regions, the air force said in a statement.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

Additionally, Russia launched an S-300 antiaircraft missile and three Kinzhal cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets.

In the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa, the debris from a Russian drone fell on a building in the coastal area, killing three people, the military said.

In Dnipro, the capital of the central Dnipropetrovsk region, a drone hit a high-rise apartment building, wounding eight people, regional Governor Serhiy Lysak reported on Telegram.

In the eastern region of Donetsk, a 68-year-old man was killed in a missile strike in the city of Myrnohrad, Oleksiy Kuleba, the deputy head of the office of the president, said on Telegram.

More than 20 houses and an apartment building were also damaged in the strike, Kuleba said.

The Donetsk region's governor, Vadym Filashkin, said at least 19 people were wounded in the strike.

Reports of explosions came also from the southern city of Mykolayiv near the Black Sea.

As the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine nears the two-year mark, the country's infrastructure has sustained almost daily destruction.

Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov estimated that it would take up to a decade to rebuild Ukraine even if the war were to end now.

"I think the most urgent damage could be repaired in two or three years. But overall it would take five to 10 years," Kubrakov told the German news agency dpa.

He cited figures advanced by the World Bank, the European Union, and the United Nations that put the cost of the war damage so far at 500 billion euros ($541 billion).

With reporting by dpa

Four Charged In Deaths Of Two U.S. Navy SEALs Boarding Ship Carrying Iranian-Made Weapons To Yemen

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fires on Huthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea. (file photo)
A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fires on Huthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea. (file photo)

Four foreign nationals have been charged with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons after U.S. naval forces interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea last month. Two Navy SEALs died during the mission. The criminal complaint released on February 22 alleges that the four defendants were transporting suspected Iranian-made missile components for the type of weapons used by Huthi rebel forces in recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The two Navy SEALS died when one of them slipped into the gap between the vessel and the SEALs' combatant craft and the other one jumped in to try to save him.

U.S. Announces Project To Protect Ukrainian State Archives

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

The U.S. State Department on February 22 announced a project to protect and digitize collections of the State Archival Services of Ukraine. The project aims to ensure that Ukrainian history, through its archives, will be safeguarded for generations to come. The $645,000 project includes training for archive staff in the management and digitization of archival records at risk of damage or destruction caused by Russia's full-scale invasion. The materials that will be preserved include archival records in the Ukrainian language that are central to Ukraine's identity and to understanding the country's history, the State Department said.

New U.S. Russia Sanctions To Target Banks, Weapons Components

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland (file photo)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland (file photo)

Senior U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland said on February 22 that the United States will impose "a crushing new package of sanctions" against Russia to mark the second anniversary of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and respond to the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Nuland said most of the sanctions will hit "Putin's war machine" and close gaps in existing sanctions regimes. They also will target countries that help Russia evade existing sanctions and banks that allow sanctions evasion.

Hacktivist Group Publishes Leaked Documents Showing Iran's Judiciary Targeting Journalists

The hack was done "with the aim of exposing the crimes of the regime against the oppressed people of Iran and with the help of our dear compatriots," the group said.
The hack was done "with the aim of exposing the crimes of the regime against the oppressed people of Iran and with the help of our dear compatriots," the group said.

Documents leaked by the hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice) appear to show clandestine actions against journalists of Persian-language media operating outside of Iran, including those affiliated with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, by the Iranian judiciary.

The leaked documents list 44 journalists and media activists who have been targeted for allegedly undermining the regime.

The findings were part of a broader expose by the hacker group -- which released more than 3 million documents -- shedding light on the judicial proceedings conducted in secrecy within Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

"In this hack, we infiltrated the court case management system and managed to access millions of documents and files," the group said in a post on Telegram where many of the documents were posted.

Edalat-e Ali says it is composed of Iranians living and working inside Iran and its intent is to expose alleged human rights abuses in the country while seeking the release of political prisoners.

It added that the documents "reveal the true face of the Islamic republic."

The hack was done "with the aim of exposing the crimes of the regime against the oppressed people of Iran and with the help of our dear compatriots," the group said.

With regard to the documents revealing the actions aimed at the media, the disclosure highlights the judiciary's secretive issuance of rulings against journalists accused of engaging in "propaganda against the Islamic republic."

The group said that under the stewardship of Judge Iman Afshari, Branch 26 has been pivotal in adjudicating cases against a broad spectrum of individuals, from political dissidents to cultural figures, especially in the aftermath of the 2022 protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested for allegedly wearing her mandatory hijab improperly.

The documents show the judiciary targeted personnel from Radio Farda and journalists associated with other prominent Persian-language outlets, including BBC Persian, Voice of America, Iran International, Manoto TV, and the GEM satellite network.

Analysts say the leak underscores the Iranian judiciary's long-standing practice of leveraging legal actions as a mechanism to silence opposition, a strategy that has seen mixed results in quelling dissent or curtailing the activities of journalists and civil society activists.

It also reveals the state's approach to various issues, from the enforcement of the mandatory hijab to the suppression of widespread protests in 2022, they said, adding the documents further corroborate the judiciary's susceptibility to influence from security and intelligence entities, casting a shadow over its independence and impartiality.

International human rights organizations have consistently ranked Iran as one of the world's top oppressors of journalists and free speech.

In December 2022, Iran's Foreign Ministry placed sanctions on several individuals and entities in the European Union, including RFE/RL's Persian-language Radio Farda.

The sanctions include visa bans, prohibiting the listed individuals from entering Iran, and the seizure of their assets within territories under the jurisdiction of the Islamic republic.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Stoltenberg Says NATO Allies Committed To Ensuring Ukraine 'Prevails'

"I always stress that this is not charity. This is an investment in our own security and and that our support makes a difference on the battlefield every day," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
"I always stress that this is not charity. This is an investment in our own security and and that our support makes a difference on the battlefield every day," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO allies are committed to doing more to ensure that Ukraine "prevails" in its battle to repel invading Russian forces, with the alliance having "significantly changed" its stance on providing more advanced weapons to Kyiv.

Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL to mark the second anniversary of Russia launching its full-scale invasion of its neighbor, the NATO chief said solidarity with Ukraine was not only correct, it's also "in our own security interests."

"We can expect that the NATO allies will do more to ensure that Ukraine prevails, because this has been so clearly stated by NATO allies," Stoltenberg said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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"I always stress that this is not charity. This is an investment in our own security and and that our support makes a difference on the battlefield every day," he added.

Ukraine is in desperate need of financial and military assistance amid signs of political fatigue in the West as the war kicked off by Russia's unprovoked invasion nears the two-year mark on February 24.

In excerpts from the interview released earlier in the week, Stoltenberg said the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and the first Russian gains on the battlefield in months should help focus the attention of NATO and its allies on the urgent need to support Ukraine.

The death of Navalny in an Arctic prison on February 16 under suspicious circumstances -- authorities say it will be another two weeks before the body may be released to the family -- adds to the need to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule does not go unchecked.

"I strongly believe that the best way to honor the memory of Aleksei Navalny is to ensure that President Putin doesn't win on the battlefield, but that Ukraine prevails," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the city of Avdiyivka last week after months of intense fighting demonstrated the need for more military aid, "to ensure that Russia doesn't make further gains."

"We don't believe that the fact that the Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from Avdiyivka in in itself will significantly change the strategic situation," he said.

"But it reminds us of that Russia is willing to sacrifice a lot of soldiers. It also just makes minor territorial gains and also that Russia has received significant military support supplies from Iran, from North Korea and have been able to ramp up their own production."

Ukraine's allies have been focused on a $61 billion U.S. military aid package, but while that remains stalled in the House of Representatives, other countries, including Sweden, Canada, and Japan, have stepped up their aid.

"Of course, we are focused on the United States, but we also see how other allies are really stepping up and delivering significant support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg said in the interview.

On the question of when Ukraine will be able to deploy F-16 fighter jets, Stoltenberg said it was not possible to say. He reiterated that Ukraine's allies all want them to be there as early as possible but said the effect of the F-16s will be stronger if pilots are well trained and maintenance crews and other support personnel are well-prepared.

"So, I think we have to listen to the military experts exactly when we will be ready to or when allies will be ready to start sending and to delivering the F-16s," he said. "The sooner the better."

Ukraine has actively sought U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russian air superiority. The United States in August approved sending F-16s to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands as soon as pilot training is completed.

It will be up to each ally to decide whether to deliver F-16s to Ukraine, and allies have different policies, Stoltenberg said. But at the same time the war in Ukraine is a war of aggression, and Ukraine has the right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine.

Asked about the prospect of former President Donald Trump returning to the White House, Stoltenberg said that regardless of the outcome of the U.S. elections this year, the United States will remain a committed NATO ally because it is in the security interest of the United States.

Trump, the current front-runner in the race to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee, drew sharp rebukes from President Joe Biden, European leaders, and NATO after suggesting at a campaign rally on February 10 that the United States might not defend alliance members from a potential Russian invasion if they don’t pay enough toward their own defense.

Stoltenberg said the United States was safer and stronger together with more than 30 allies -- something that neither China nor Russia has.

The criticism of NATO has been aimed at allies underspending on defense, he said.

But Stoltenberg said new data shows that more and more NATO allies are meeting the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, and this demonstrates that the alliance has come a long way since it pledged in 2014 to meet the target.

At that time three members of NATO spent 2 percent of GDP on defense. Now it’s 18, he said.

"If you add together what all European allies do and compare that to the GDP in total in Europe, it's actually 2 percent today," he said. "That's good, but it's not enough because we want [each NATO member] to spend 2 percent. And we also make sure that 2 percent is a minimum."

Zelenskiy, In Fox Interview, Pleads With U.S. Congress To Pass Aid, Says Cost Will Be Higher If It Doesn't

"Will Ukraine survive without Congress's support? Of course. But not all of us," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. (file photo)
"Will Ukraine survive without Congress's support? Of course. But not all of us," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on the U.S. Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package to help his country defend against invading Russian forces, saying it will be a cheaper alternative than the consequences of a Russian victory.

Speaking with the conservative Fox News channel in an interview that aired on February 22 -- two days ahead of the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of its neighbor -- Zelenskiy warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin will push further into Eastern Europe if he conquers Ukraine.

"If they [Congress] want to be very pragmatic, the price we are asking now...is less than it will be in the future if [Russia] will go into NATO countries," Zelenskiy said from a bombed-out building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where he sat down for the interview as sporadic explosions were heard in the background.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

"Will Ukraine survive without Congress's support? Of course. But not all of us," he added, while inviting President Joe Biden and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to visit Ukraine and witness for themselves the situation at the front lines of "this tragedy."

After four months of debate, the U.S. Senate earlier this month passed a supplementary spending bill that allocates some $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, mainly for weapons and military equipment. However, a group of right-wing Republicans in the House of Representatives has been holding it up as they seek to tie it to contentious immigration reforms at home.

The delay is having significant consequences on the battlefield, as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and air defenses. Russian troops last week captured the eastern city of Avdiyivka, the first major victory for the Kremlin since May 2023. Military experts said a lack of manpower and firepower forced Ukrainian forces to retreat from the city.

By speaking with Fox News, Zelenskiy appealed directly to conservative Americans whose support for Ukraine has declined over the past year.

According to a recent poll by Pew Research Center, nearly half of U.S. citizens who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning say the United States is giving too much support to Ukraine. Only one in six people who identify as Democrat or Democrat-leaning held that same opinion.

"At the height of the Ukraine supplemental fight, President Zelenskiy is speaking to Republicans through the media outlet that conservatives watch most," Daniel Vajdich, president of Yorktown Solutions, a Washington-based lobby firm whose clients include Ukraine, told RFE/RL.

"Zelenskiy explains to conservatives and Congressional Republicans why U.S. funding for Ukraine is in fact a rational U.S. investment of its resources," he said.

Fox News is the top-rated U.S. cable channel by daily viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, reaching 1.2 million people in a 24-hour period, as much as MSNBC and CNN combined.

Zelenskiy addressed concerns often voiced by right-wing Republicans over aid, corruption, elections, and a peace settlement.

He said U.S. aid -- Washington has been by far Kyiv's biggest donor -- goes for military needs, and not toward Ukrainian pensions. In fact, some Democrats have argued, most of the aid goes to American companies who receive the contracts to supply weapons to Kyiv.

Still, Zelenskiy said Ukraine's government was moving forward with Western-backed anti-corruption reforms and denied he was seeking to postpone elections to stay in power. Zelenskiy said the constitution does not allow elections to be held during wartime.

Ukraine's next round of presidential elections were scheduled for this year.

Despite few territorial changes to the 1,000-kilometer front line since 2023, Zelenskiy rejected the idea that the war had reached a stalemate. When asked about the prospects of peace negotiations, the Ukrainian leader said that Putin can't be trusted, adding the Russian leader will never give up trying to get full control of the country.

He said Putin's negotiating position will weaken with time as Russia suffers more losses on the battlefield. In the meantime, he said, Ukraine will prepare for another counteroffensive and promised Russia's forces in the south would get "some surprises."

The interview comes exactly two weeks after popular conservative commentator Tucker Carlson -- once one of Fox's most popular hosts -- aired his interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The authoritarian Kremlin leader claimed in the interview that Ukraine was a threat to Russia because it was seeking to join NATO. Western experts say Putin uses the NATO argument to camoflage his imperial ambitions.

Carlson has long questioned Washington's support for Kyiv. In May 2022, he claimed the Biden administration was arming Ukraine to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

When asked about when the war will end, Zelenskiy said that depended on Western resolve. He said the West was afraid of what will happen to Russia -- the world's second-biggest nuclear power -- if it loses the war.

"We are doing everything possible for the war to end as soon as possible," Zelenskiy said.

"When the world will be ready to stop Putin? Well, let's be frank. The world is not really ready for Putin to be able to lose his power. The world is afraid of changes in [the] Russian Federation," he said.

Pakistan Blocks X For Sixth Straight Day As Activists Criticize Shutdown

In Quetta, members of Pakhtunkhwa National Awami Party protested against alleged fraud in th recent elections.
In Quetta, members of Pakhtunkhwa National Awami Party protested against alleged fraud in th recent elections.

Pakistan's media regulators again disrupted service on February 22 to the social-media platform X, formerly Twitter, affecting users across the country for the sixth day in a row.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and human rights organizations in Pakistan had previously expressed concern over the restrictions on X in several parts of the country.

The CPJ said in a statement that public access to the network was "restricted" for "the fifth day in a row” on February 21.

The CPJ added that Pakistani authorities should "ensure uninterrupted public access to social networks and allow independent sharing and dissemination of information."

There has been no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), but Islamabad previously emphasized that it was committed to freedom of expression.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media, while U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on February 21 expressed concerns over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

"We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted," Miller said in a statement. "We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials."

The Internet observatory NetBlocks in a statement on February 22 confirmed the restriction in Pakistan, saying it began on February 17.

"Metrics show X/Twitter has now been restricted in #Pakistan for over 120 hours, entering a sixth day of disruption as the nation joins a handful of countries that ban access to international social media platforms,” NetBlocks said.

The restrictions were imposed as disclosures relating to election fraud circulated on the platform, NetBlocks said, adding that the measure "significantly hinders the exercise of democracy and media freedom."

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party protested against alleged fraud in the elections on February 17.

Pakistan's caretaker government and the commission have repeatedly said that the February 8 election process was completely transparent and fair.

The government suspended mobile phone and Internet services on election day in many parts of the country. At that time, the Interior Ministry said that it was done to ensure security.

Khan's political rivals earlier this week announced details of a power-sharing agreement, naming Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister.

The announcement followed days of talks among the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, and other parties that did not gain enough seats in the election to govern on their own. They said at a news conference that they had secured the required majority to form a coalition government.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won the most seats but short of a simple majority needed to form a government.

With reporting by AP

Biden Met With Navalny's Wife, Daughter, White House Says

U.S. President Joe Biden (center) meets with Yulia Navalnaya (right) and Dasha Navalnaya.
U.S. President Joe Biden (center) meets with Yulia Navalnaya (right) and Dasha Navalnaya.

U.S. President Joe Biden on February 22 met the wife and daughter of Aleksei Navalny in California "to express his heartfelt condolences," the White House said in a statement. During the meeting, Biden expressed his admiration for Navalny's "extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia in which the rule of law applies equally to everyone," the statement said. Biden also affirmed that the United States will announce major new sanctions against Russia on February 23 in response to Navalny's death, Russia's repression and aggression, and its war in Ukraine.

Updated

U.S. Charges Russian Oligarchs, State-Owned Bank CEO, And U.S.-Based 'Facilitators'

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) listens to VTB Bank Chairman Andrei Kostin during a meeting in Moscow on July 11, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) listens to VTB Bank Chairman Andrei Kostin during a meeting in Moscow on July 11, 2023.

The U.S. Justice Department on February 22 announced enforcement actions in five separate federal cases against sanctioned Russian oligarchs and networks supporting Russia.

The actions, timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, include charges against Russian state-owned VTB Bank Chairman Andrei Kostin and two of his U.S.-based facilitators, the department said.

Charges were unsealed in New York against Kostin and facilitators Vadim Wolfson and Gannon Bond, who were arrested.

Kostin, who has been designated for sanctions by the United States, is the longtime president of VTB Bank, Russia's second-largest. He is charged with engaging in a scheme to evade sanctions and launder money to support two superyachts.

Kostin and the two facilitators are also accused of trying to evade sanctions related to a luxury home in Colorado.

Michael Khoo, a co-director of the Justice Department’s KleptoCapture task force, told reporters that the announcement was meant to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that "we're not going away" and "we can play the long game as well," so long as the war continues.

Other actions announced on February 22 include the indictment in Florida of pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko on charges linked to a scheme to violate and evade U.S. sanctions.

Also in Florida, federal agents filed a civil-forfeiture complaint against two luxury condominiums owned by sanctioned Russian businessman Viktor Perevalov, the co-owner of a Russian-based construction company.

The Justice Department also announced an indictment charging Vladislav Osipov with bank fraud in connection with operating a yacht owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

Osipov, a Russian national, lives in Switzerland.

The U.S. State Department announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Osipov, who allegedly served in senior positions in multiple companies belonging to or controlled by Vekselberg.

The 17-count criminal indictment of Osipov, unsealed in in Washington, identifies the superyacht as the Tango, and says it was the first belonging to a sanctioned Russian with close ties to the Kremlin to be seized at the request of the U.S. government following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Justice Department also said Feliks Medvedev pleaded guilty earlier this month to helping launder more than $150 million through bank accounts he controls. Medvedev, a Russian citizen, lives in the U.S. state of Georgia.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department "is more committed than ever to cutting off the flow of illegal funds that are fueling Putin's war and to holding accountable those who continue to enable it."

The actions announced on February 22 "bring prosecutions against and seize assets of sanctioned enablers of the Kremlin and Russian military," he said.

The KleptoCapture task force enforces the economic restrictions within the United States imposed on Russia and its billionaires. Over the past two years it has secured court orders for the restraint, seizure, and forfeiture of nearly $700 million in assets and has charged more than 70 people with violating sanctions and export controls.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

IMF Says Ukraine Needs 'Timely Support' From U.S., Other Donors

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva. meet in Washington in December.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva. meet in Washington in December.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on February 22 said that "timely support" for Ukraine is needed from the United States and other international donors to ensure the country's fiscal viability as it enters a third year battling Russia's invasion. An IMF spokeswoman said the global lender estimates that Ukraine will need about $42 billion of financing this year, including official donor support of about $31.9 billion. "Timely support from the international community, including the U.S., will be vital to ensure that the country remains on the path to fiscal and external viability," spokeswoman Julie Kozack said in Washington.

Updated

Navalny's Mother Says Allowed To See Body, Russian Officials Pressing For Secret Burial

Lyudmila Navalnaya said the authorities want her son to be buried "secretly, without a farewell ceremony." (file photo)
Lyudmila Navalnaya said the authorities want her son to be buried "secretly, without a farewell ceremony." (file photo)

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, said on February 22 that investigators allowed her to see her son's body late on February 21 in the Arctic city of Salekhard.

In a video statement, Navalnaya said she signed a death certificate, but that the authorities continued to hold her son's body.

Navalnaya said she spent 24 hours in the directorate of the Investigative Committee in Salekhard and was brought to a morgue, where she saw her son's body for the first time since his death was made public on February 16.

Navalnaya said she was brought to the morgue "secretly" and signed the death certificate there, stressing that the authorities were breaking the law by not releasing her son's body to her and by "putting forward conditions on where, when, and how Aleksei should be buried."

The authorities in her presence "were receiving commands either from the Kremlin or from the Investigative Committee's central office," Navalnaya said.

"They want the burial to be held secretly without any farewell ceremonies," she added in the video. "They want to bring me to the edge of a cemetery and say to me, 'Here is where your son is resting.' I do not agree with that."

Navalnaya said she wanted her son's burial to be public, so that all his supporters can bid farewell to him.

"I am recording this video because they started threatening me. They look into my eyes and say that if I do not agree to the secret burial, they will do something bad with my son's body," she said. "I do not want any conditions. I just want everything to be done in accordance with the law. I demand my son's body to be given to me immediately."

WATCH: A Russian doctor who was involved in efforts to diagnose Navalny after he was poisoned in 2020 says traces of poison can be removed from a dead body. He also said there was no reason not to hand over the body.

Former Navalny Doctor Says Poison Could Be Removed From Body
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Navalnaya has been trying to get access to her son's body since his death in a special-regime prison, the harshest type of penitentiary in Russia, was announced. Prison officials said the 47-year-old died after he collapsed while on a daily walk out of his cell.

On February 21, Navalnaya filed a lawsuit in a Russian court demanding the release of her son's body. A closed-door hearing into complaint is scheduled to be held on March 4.

Navalnaya on February 20 posted a video on social media taken from outside the so-called Polar Wolf prison where Navalny had been held since December, pleading with President Vladimir Putin for his help, saying the "resolution of this matter depends solely on you."

U.K. Announces New Russia Sanctions To Mark Ukraine Invasion Anniversary

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (file photo)
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (file photo)

Britain has expanded its sanctions against Russian companies and individuals and entities outside Russia that are suspected of aiding in the circumvention of existing sanctions, the U.K. government said on February 22.

In a statement issued two days before the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the move adds more than 50 individuals and entities to its sanctions list as it seeks to restrict and weaken the Russian defense industry.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The package also takes aim at companies in China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries accused of circumventing previously imposed sanctions.

"Two years on, we stand united in support for Ukraine. Our international economic pressure means Russia cannot afford this illegal invasion. Our sanctions are starving [Russian President Vladimir] Putin of the resources he desperately needs to fund his struggling war," Cameron said in a statement.

Cameron said the sanctions will disrupt Putin's ability to equip his military with high-tech equipment and weaponry and block him from "refilling his war coffers while Ukraine defends itself."

There are now more than 2,000 Russian individuals, companies, and groups on Britain's sanctions list.

One of the largest companies included in the update is the Novatek project Arctic LNG-2 for the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Sanctions were also imposed against Arctic LNG 2 and its general director, Oleg Karpushin, and other top managers of Novatek, the majority owner of Arctic LNG 2.

Britain said Arctic LNG-2 is one of the key links in Putin’s plan to make Russia a major LNG player.

The sanctions also target a Turkish company involved in the supply of electronics, three electronics companies based in China, Russia's state-run diamond giant Alrosa and its CEO, and companies active in Russia's oil and mining industries.

The sanctions come a day after the European Union approved its own package of expanded sanctions, including bans on nearly 200 entities and individuals accused of helping Moscow procure weapons or of involvement in kidnapping Ukrainian children.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the United States will announce a package of tough new sanctions on February 23 against Russia over the death in prison of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

U.S. Says Growing Iran-Russia Military Ties 'Should Concern' World

Iran test-fires its home-built surface-to-surface Fateh 110 missile in 2010.
Iran test-fires its home-built surface-to-surface Fateh 110 missile in 2010.

The United States says increasing military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow is a "concern," amid reports that Iran has delivered multiple shipments of ballistic missiles to Russia.

Reuters reported on February 21 that Iran had supplied Russia with hundreds of missiles through four shipments since January, with an unnamed Iranian military official quoted as saying that there "would be more in the coming weeks."

While Ukrainian and Western officials have yet to publicly confirm the Reuters report, the development is consistent with U.S. warnings.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL that while they were not able to comment directly on the report, the increasing military cooperation between Iran and Russia "is something that should concern the entire world."

"We have been warning for some time that Russia was in negotiations with Iran to acquire close-range ballistic missiles and that those negotiations were actively advancing," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson attributed Tehran and Moscow's improving relations to Russia becoming "more isolated" since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing on February 22 that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Iran in the coming days for its efforts to supply Russia with drones and other technology for the war against Ukraine.

"We have not seen any confirmation that missiles have actually moved from Iran to Russia," Kirby said, but said that at the same time, "we have no reason to believe that they will not follow through."

Kirby also issued a warning to Iran that providing ballistic missiles to Russia for use against Kyiv would be met with even more sanctions and actions at the United Nations.

On February 20, an Iranian Defense Ministry spokesman insisted that his country's military cooperation with Russia "has nothing to do with the Ukraine war" and predated the conflict.

Following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia was swiftly hit by a slew of Western sanctions, overtaking Iran as the most sanctioned country in the world in March 2022.

The two countries have grown close since the war started, expanding their economic and military cooperation.

Iran has been supplying Russia with its cheap but effective Shahed "kamikaze" drones, which Moscow has often used to target civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Iran has denied providing drones to Russia to use against Ukraine and insists that it sold a "limited number" of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Moscow before the war. Russia has also rejected reports that it is using Iranian drones in the war.

However, the Russian Defense Ministry in July 2023 appeared to confirm in its monthly journal Armeisky sbornik that its Geran-2 drone is, in fact, the Iranian-made Shahed-136 UAV.

Reuters said Iranian shipments included the Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar short-range ballistic missiles.

This comes after UN curbs on Iran's imports and exports of missiles expired in October 2023, though Britain and the European Union said they would continue to impose the sanctions on Iran.

A month earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was shown around an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) weapons exhibition in Tehran by IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh.

'Game Changer'

If confirmed, the delivery of Iranian missiles to Russia "would be a game changer, both militarily and politically," said John Krzyzaniak, a research associate at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

Missiles are harder to defend against than drones, allowing Russia to carry out more devastating attacks at long range.

Krzyzaniak added that the trade would give cash-strapped Iran a windfall and a reputational boost, as well as "a bargaining chip in its other dealings with Russia."

There have been reports over the past year about Tehran finalizing an agreement with Moscow to obtain Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to upgrade its aging air force. Observers have in the past suggested that one of Iran's objectives in supplying arms to Russia is to be able to acquire advanced warplanes.

Russia has started using North Korean missiles in the war with mixed results. However, Iran's short-range ballistic missiles have been battle-tested, says Nicole Grajewski, a fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program.

While the purported missile deliveries would further cement the growing military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, it would be viewed as an escalation by the West, according to Grajewski.

"It would also be another nail in the coffin for the [Iran nuclear deal] and certainly would complicate any kind of parallel agreement on Iran's nuclear program -- even if those chances are dismal already," she added.

With reporting by Reuters

Ruling Party Nominates Head Of Hungary's Top Court For President

Tamas Sulyok is sworn in as president of Hungary's Constitutional Court in parliament in November 2016.
Tamas Sulyok is sworn in as president of Hungary's Constitutional Court in parliament in November 2016.

Hungary's ruling party will nominate Tamas Sulyok, president of the Constitutional Court, as next president to succeed Katalin Novak, who resigned earlier this month, Mate Kocsis, the leader of the governing majority's faction in parliament, announced on February 22. Novak, a longtime ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, resigned on February 10 after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children's home. The scandal triggered a huge street protest last week.

Polish, Ukrainian Officials To Meet In Warsaw Next Month

Polish farmers have been blockading the border over complaints that Ukrainian imports are hurting their livelihoods.
Polish farmers have been blockading the border over complaints that Ukrainian imports are hurting their livelihoods.

Polish and Ukrainian government members will hold talks in Warsaw on March 28, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on February 22 after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Warsaw and members of the European Commission to meet with him and his government members at the Ukrainian-Polish border to address tensions caused by protests by Polish farmers over Ukrainian food imports. The farmers say a wave of goods are impacting prices of their own output. Poland's presidential spokesperson said earlier that President Andrzej Duda supported Zelenskiy's idea of a dialogue. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

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